Thursday, August 8, 2013
Trade Secrecy laws provide license to commit negligent mass murder
Thanks, in part, to trade secrecy laws and the absence of disclosure laws many energy and chemical companies have been dumping toxic waste, mainly in areas where people without much if any political power, for decades. There have been dozens if not hundreds or even thousands of cases where this has been exposed and they have been reluctantly and partially addressed. These include a handful of cases that have received an enormous amount of attention, for a little while anyway, as well as many more that haven't received much attention at all. The most widely known examples include the Love Canal in New York pollution by PG&E made famous by Erin Brockovich, and a site in Massachusetts exposed in the film A Civil Action staring John Travolta.There are few if any attempts to inform the vast majority of the public just how common these incidents are.
(This is a follow up to my previous post about Why Do We Have Trade Secrets? Professor Michael Risch's defense of fraud?; after I posted about his study, Michael Risch responded to my views; both his comments and my own additional ones are on the blog.)
In most if not all of these cases hiding the pollution may have been made easier as a result of trade secrecy laws that make few if any exceptions for activities that might endanger lives, especially for those with little or no political power. These trade secrecy laws enable them to require and enforce non-disclosure agreements from employees that make it illegal to inform the public when they're dumping toxic chemicals in areas where it might endanger the public. Even if these laws can't be enforced in many cases the employees may be led to believe that they can and they often face retaliation when they disclose information even if it isn't legal.
The use of trade secrecy laws haven't been the only contributing factor when it comes to allowing the enormous amount of environmental destruction going on around the world but they have made it much easier for energy companies to keep a low profile and with the help of the commercial media that reports one incident at a time as an isolated occasion without reporting on the vast majority of them or taking a comprehensive look at how widespread the damage is environmental damage has escalated especially among the poor.
And it is clearly already leading to an enormous amount of deaths which might be considered negligent mass murder if enough people took a closer look at it. One of the leading reasons that it isn't considered mass murder is because most people don't take a closer look; and this is because an enormous amount of the information is kept secret and on top of that they often create many industry funded studies which in some cases might even get more attention than the more reliable studies that don't have industry funds behind them.
Instead of passing disclosure laws to prevent dumping toxic waste in areas where they might lead to epidemic levels of contamination making people sick or even killing them they often pass trade secrecy laws masking it harder to inform the public about dangers to their health.
If a poor person were to pollute the property of a rich person he would almost certainly be prosecuted for it; however, thanks in part to trade secrecy laws, corporate profits are protected more than the lives of those that live in areas where these corporations often dump toxic chemicals!
Many of the worst offenses are almost certainly in third world countries. In 1991 Lawrence Summers even wrote a memo suggesting that we export pollution to less developed countries. Several people including Michael Kinsley have claimed that this memo wasn't intended as policy but to stir up debate and bring about solutions. This might be a rational defense for the memo if they actually did it instead of actually implementing it as policy. Michael Kinsley even went so far as to say that it "was obviously meant to stimulate thinking and not to be implemented as policy;" but then he went on to try to argue that it was actually a good idea and that they would be helping the poor people by implementing this policy in, "Revisiting One Lawrence Summers Controversy."
So far I haven't heard anyone claim that Michael Kinsley's article was intended to be sarcastic or stir up debate.
However this isn't limited to third word countries as several researchers including Robert Bullard, author of "Dumping in Dixie" clearly indicated in some of his research. He started by investigating pollution that was concentrated in areas populated by the poor especially African Americans in Texas; and found that there were many other areas throughout the south where the same thing was happening. One of those areas was Alsen Louisiana as indicated in the following excerpt:
These people almost certainly didn't receive nearly as much compensation as the toxic chemicals cost them; and furthermore, if they had known ahead of time that they were dumping these chemicals they could have acted much sooner and prevented it from polluting the area in the first place which would have been much cheaper and more effective then compensating them after the fact.
Intentionally or not, they have set the stage so that the people of this community could be used as research subjects to find out how much damage the pollution could potentially cause, possibly at the expense of their lives. However even if this was followed up and the research was done the public still isn't receiving the benefit of the research since the information isn't being passed on to the public in an effective manner and used to implement policies that would prevent this from happening. Perhaps more important is the most important thing they would learn is that it is in their best interest not to pollute the environment in the first place and they could have learned that without further research if they were willing to educate the public properly.
Without more thorough research it would be difficult to know for certain if this is typical but after looking at enough of these stories I suspect that there are many more stories like this; and while they might get better compensation in some cases where they have more political power, there are almost certainly many other cases where they don't even receive as much as the residents of Alsen did if, the corporations convince the community to give up, or they never recognize what is causing their health problems in the first place.
These incidents are routinely treated as if they're isolated and they rarely implement widespread policies to reduce these disasters, or at least not nearly as much as they could, or should, especially in poorer or minority areas. Most traditional media outlets decline to even try to do a good job reporting on these incidents; however Robert Bullard continues to investigate them even though he almost certainly doesn't have nearly as much resources as the chemical and energy companies. Another example is the following story about a more recent incident in Tennessee and Alabama where there was a spill in an area populated by mostly white people, probably lower income and the coal ash was shipped to another area populated by lower income African-Americans:
Thanks in part, to their ability to suppress the truth with the help of trade secrecy laws and their political and legal connections energy companies routinely continue to make massive profits at the expense of peoples lives and it is much more extensive than most people realize. A recent study that covers pipeline accidents indicates that there have been many more accidents than most people are aware of and that since 1986 have resulted in nearly $7 billion in damages, more than 2,000 injuries, and more than 500 deaths. This is just from one type of disaster. In the past when I attempted to find out how many more oil rig explosions there were after the BP I did a Google search and found many more which I listed in BP is just the tip of the iceberg; and it was clear that if I kept on searching I would have found many more and that if I had access to a more comprehensive record of these disasters I might have come up with a list that would be even worse than the study of pipeline spills. In the past few years there have been even more high profile disasters including a few from just the last few months; these include the Texas fertilizer explosion, the propane explosion in Florida , the railway explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada , Yellowstone river pipeline leak , another two pipeline leaks in Arkansas , a Richmond, California Chevron explosion , a large Alberta, Canada pipeline leak along with a report about many more that have been happening over the past 37 years averaging 2 per day , and who knows how many more that aren't being reported properly. For every one that they do report briefly before it falls down the memory hole there are almost certainly many more that happen in foreign countries or are only reported in local areas in the United states. the disaste3rs that aren't being reported properly could be as dangerous, if not more dangerous than those that are since they aren't being addressed.
Edit 08/20/2013: Since this was posted there have been at least a couple other news stories about environmental disasters that were reported briefly and quickly fallen off the news cycle. One of them was a Natural Gas Pipeline Causing a Cornfield To Explode In Western Illinois; and anothe3r involved a propane explosion in Kansas City Missouri; however when searching for this I only found one from last February and more from previous years including Questions grow in natural gas explosion at JJ’s restaurant 02/19/2013 ; Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion Renews Fears Among Homeowners in Subdivision Near St. Louis 09/13/2010 ; 18 Hurt in Gas Explosion at Missouri Hotel 02/17/1991 ; Propane Explosion at House Kills 2, Injures 3 Lighting a Cigarette Touches off Fireball ; Propane Explosion Blasts Tiny Resort Town 08/04/1969 and more including Major Explosions & Oil Spills. Most of these are reported as isolated incidents and they're often referred to as "rare;" however when searching for more they ke3ep coming up on the internet and they might not be nearly as "rare" as the media implies. A more thorough research project would provide more information but that is difficult to fund when the corporations that profit from the industry use their influence to influence what is or is not researched and those that are more sincere have much fewer resources.
A thorough study of how much environmental damage is being done to the planet would be a monumental task but we already have enough information to know that it is enormous and we should act more to reverse this trend now even before the research can be done.
Unfortunately instead of providing resources to reverse this or to study it more resources are being provided to preserve the status quo including biased studies financed by the energy companies and political manipulations as well. Rollins Environmental Services which was implicated in the Alsen incident has a history of funding environmental groups to go after their competition while ignoring their activities and many energy companies have even been helping to write the government's review for the Keystone pipeline! Exxon Mobil has been trying to undermine research on Climate Change for a long time, according to Steve Coll: How Exxon Shaped the Climate Debate; and there have been many other efforts by other energy companies to control the debate so that they can increase their profits at the expense of the lives of the majority. With the amount of environmental damage continuing to escalate and Climate Change as well it isn't "alarmist," as some people might imply to claim that we need drastic changes soon, without panic!
We have the technology to make many of these changes but with corporations controlling the majority of the information many people receive it could be very difficult to implement these changes unless those that re more familiar with it inform enough other people to rely more on alternative news outlets, at least until we can get major media reform and do their part to hold officials accountable.
The following are some additional articles on the subject:
Environmental Warfare, Humanitarian Disasters, and Indirect Genocide
"We could just take what's falling free from the sky."
Code Green: One Little Letter
What If Ecocide Was a Crime? Let's Find Out
Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987 2007 Grass roots Struggles to Dismantle Environmental Racism in the United States
As Senate, Obama Consider Keystone, New Analysis and Video Reveal Dangerous Toll of U.S. Pipelines
BP Tries To Avoid Payments For Deepwater Horizon Disaster By Accusing Gulf Businesses Of Fraud
EPA to Allow Consumption of Toxic Fracking Wastewater by Wildlife and Livestock
UK Fracking Firm Admits They Are Causing Earthquakes
Edit: 10/15/2013 the following are a few new spills that have occurred since this article was posted. This is not complete and random searches will almost certainly tun up much more. A comprehensive search would be huge.
Experts: Gas in 2013 Gulf blowout is less damaging
North Dakota waits 11 days to tell public about oil spill
Thai oil spill spreads to new bay on resort island
Shell: New leaks close major Nigerian oil pipeline
Colorado Flooding Triggers Oil Spills, Shutdowns
NH Appeals Order to Set Aside $195M of Exxon Award
ExxonMobil Shuts California Oil Pipeline After Spill